Italian football again in the eye of a storm

Typically they feature dawn raids and search warrants; obscure provincial prosecutors with snappy wardrobes and an eye for publicity; pictures of sheepish young men emerging from police stations; extracts from mobile phone taps selectively leaked to the papers; condemnation and summary convictions; and then a five-year appeal process during which it emerges that everyone was doing it but the accused had the misfortune or the stupidity to be caught.

Miss one Italian scandal and you can be quite confident there will be another along shortly. But the best of them coincide with major tournaments.

In 1982 Paolo Rossi was brought back into the side for the World Cup after serving two years of a three-year ban for the betting scandal known as Totonero. His hat-trick knocked out Brazil in the quarter-finals; he then scored two in the semi-final against Poland and the opening goal in the 3-1 final win against West Germany.

In 1986 came Totonero II. The story broke on May 2, and threatened to implicate Serie A’s kingpin Italo Allodi, who had previously been in charge of the Italian Football Federation’s training and coaching centre at Coverciano for eight years. Eventually six clubs were penalised and almost 40 officials and players were banned, although Allodi himself was cleared of involvement.

In 2006, again on the eve of the World Cup and again on May 2, came the first details of the match-fixing scandal now known as Calciopoli, or sometimes Moggiopoli, after Luciano Moggi, the Juventus managing director (and former protege of Allodi) who was eventually banned for life. Juventus were demoted. Fiorentina, Milan and Lazio were also penalised, along with club directors, referees and those responsible for choosing match officials.

This latest scandal first broke last year and has been simmering away quietly for the best part of 12 months, largely ignored apart from occasional revelations about pay-offs to arrange the desired results for foreign betting syndicates. Lower league matches and cup ties were the targets, just as with similar scandals in Germany, Cyprus and parts of Eastern Europe.

Until yesterday the scandal seemed more sordid than spectacular. Those implicated were mostly obscure players at struggling sides. The football authorities were relieved that some who were approached went straight to the police.

One of honest men was Simone Farina, the Gubbio defender who became a national celebrity last December when it was revealed that he had turned down a bribe of €200,000 and provided evidence leading to the arrest of 17 people.

It was a nice gesture by Italy manager Cesare Prandelli to invite Farina to join up with the squad for their three-day training session at Coverciano back in January. All the more of a shock for manager and players when the police appeared at the training centre at 6.30am yesterday with a search warrant as part of a coordinated series of raids on potential suspects and witnesses, including five men detained in Hungary.

All along Roberto Di Martino, the prosecutor in charge of the case, has mentioned his feeling that a few top-flight games and players might be suspect. Among them is a match between Lecce and Lazio that finished 2-4, which he now says produced a €2 million profit for the gang involved, with €600,000 of it going to players. Other suspect matches involve Genoa and Siena, hence the warrants for Antonio Conte, who was in charge of Siena last season and is now manager of newly-crowned champions Juventus, as well as Lazio captain Stefano Mauri. Italy defender Domenico Criscito, who Prandelli has now excluded from the national squad, was with Genoa before moving to Russian champions Zenit.

Another Italy defender, Leonardo Bonucci, is also under investigation. Now at Juventus, Bonucci was a Bari player at the time of their suspect match against Udinese two seasons ago. Like Criscito he has been named by one of the players accused of corruption. He is not himself under arrest, rather “helping with enquiries”.

“It’s a disgrace for football,” said Roma director Walter Sabatini yesterday. “It’s a very serious thing, I hope the lads involved are all innocent, but I think that may not be the case.”

For Prandelli it’s one bit of publicity he could definitely have done without. Whether he can use it to turn adversity to advantage, as happened with Marcello Lippi’s side in Germany six years ago, remains to be seen.

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